Lifelong Canadians face discrimination by their own government…still

Published in the Vancouver Observer | March 16, 2012 | Circulation 150,000 unique monthly visitors

Advocates for Lost Canadians – those excluded from citizenship because of obscure legal loopholes – are asking questions after citizenship and immigration minister Jason Kenney seemingly admitted to discrimination recently at a press conference.

When the Vancouver Observer asked the minister whether the Canadian government denies citizenship based on gender, age, or marital status, he said no.

“No, citizenship isn’t and shouldn’t be,” he said. “The Citizenship Act lays out who can become citizens and it is available to anyone … regardless of marital status or age.”

This statement seemed to be a huge paradox for many Lost Canadians, who are currently being denied citizenship, as well as old age benefits, based on the fact that they are seniors (born before 1947) and born out of wedlock, often to war veterans and war brides. What, if not discrimination, was preventing Canadians who had lived their entire lives in the country from obtaining citizenship?

Lifelong Canadians facing discrimination

There are famous cases of lifelong Canadians who have been struggling for recognition of their Canadian status. Jackie Scott, 66, was blocked from citizenship in 2005 because her parents – including her Canadian war veteran father – were unwed when she was born, based on an obscure clause covering people born in Canada prior to the 1947 Citizenship Act. Prior to that act, a so-called “illegitimate” child was the sole property of the mother, and her mother was British. Scott, with Chapman, filed a lawsuit last month for her citizenship in a federal court.

Then there are people like Ian Munroe, a former serviceman who served the Canadian military for 18 years before being told that he wasn’t a Canadian citizen. Despite Kenney’s claim that Citizenship isn’t based on marital status, government authorities asked Munroe whether his parents were married at the time that he was born — the question is technically illegal, classified as discriminatory under the Canadian Human Rights Act. Even though Munroe ended up receiving his citizenship in his sixties, he spent the majority of his life stateless.

Leonard Johnson  is currently being denied benefits because — despite having lived in Canada since 1947 with his war bride mother and having worked paid taxes in the country, he was denied his old age security pension last month. Johnson, however, was able to obtain British citizenship in order to travel. He is currently 65, however, and now only has 20 per cent vision out of one eye and is blind in the other, which makes it difficult for him to complete paperwork in order to become a Canadian citizen.

Even though there are several situations in which people can become Lost Canadians, war bride children who were born in 1946 and 1947 are in the spotlight because they are now applying for Old Age pensions, and are becoming ‘red-flagged’ when they report to the government that they were born in England or Scotland. Since many of them never realized they weren’t Canadian to begin with, they find themselves at  loss when the government refuses to grant them any pension or benefits.

Refusal to speak about citizenship issues

Last month, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) suddenly over-ruled a Vancouver Observer scheduled interview with the head of Canada’s Citizenship and Multiculturalism Branch, Nicole Girard, in Ottawa.

“The interview request was refused at a higher level,” CIC spokesperson Remi Lariviere explained, apologetically.

Lost Canadians advocate Don Chapman expressed dismay at both Kenney’s remarks and the government’s refusal to meet in person with the Vancouver Observer – saying it demonstrates their unwillingness to address the concerns of rightful Canadians.

Chapman, once a Lost Canadian himself, has long campaigned for several years on the matter, and added that there could be up to 40,000 people still excluded from citizenship unfairly.

“What public good is being served by keeping these people out?” he asked. “Excuse me, but if you had a business in Canada, and you refused to hire someone because of their age, gender, or family status, you’d be before the courts. It’s illegal.

“But here’s the government of Canada saying, ‘We’re okay with that.’ In other words, we’re not going to abide by the Charter or our own laws.”

Finish the job
The New Democratic Party (NDP)’s immigration critic, Don Davies, called upon the government to fix the Citizenship Act to include what he suggested could amount to tens of thousands of people who, for all intents and purposes, are Canadians without citizenship. He said that a 2009 revision to the act – Bill C-37 – enfranchised 95 per cent of Lost Canadians – but the government should “finish the job.”

“It should be the goal and desire of the federal government to fix the citizenship problems for everybody, not just for 50 per cent or 75 per cent or 90 per cent,” Davies told the Vancouver Observer. “Everybody who should have Canadian citizenship intact should be dealt with.

“If Jason Kenney puts his money where his mouth is and really believes that Canadian citizenship is something that should be exalted, then he should be getting on this right away.”

In an emailed response to the Vancouver Observer’s questions – sent in lieu of the cancelled interview – another Citizenship and Immigration Canada media spokesperson said remaining Lost Canadians can apply for special consideration.

“Canada’s citizenship laws are generous and cover the situations of most people,” Jack Branswell, manager of media relations for the department, commented. “Those not covered can apply for a discretionary grant of citizenship. The acceptance rates for discretionary grants of citizenship are high (92 per cent).

Branswell said that the 2009 changes restored or gave citizenship to the vast majority of those who lost or never had it because of outdated provisions in previous legislation.

The Lost Canadians left behind
Both Davies and Chapman agreed that Bill C-37 restored citizenship to many rightful claimants, but asked why legislation cannot be extended to address problems of marital status and birth year, two of the remaining criteria for exclusion.

“Huge numbers benefited,” Chapman said. “But what about those who didn’t?

“Here’s what the government answer is: do it on a case-by-case basis. Do you believe a politician should be judge of whether or not you’re Canadian? That’s what the courts have said they don’t want to happen.”

John Weston, Conservative Member of Parliament for West Vancouver, said that he supports expanding citizenship coverage for such cases as Jackie Scott.

“Jackie Scott should have citizenship, I’ve told cabinet members that,” said Weston, who sits on Parliament’s citizenship and immigration committee. “I am vying for further Citizenship Act (amendments) that would ultimately enfranchise her as a citizen.”

Weston said that Citizenship and Immigration had declined a “very rarely provided minister’s order” to grant Scott exceptional consideration, but that the number of people actually falling through the cracks of the 2009 amendments are “150 or less, in that range,” contradicting Chapman and Davies’ claim there are up to 40,000 Lost Canadians. Chapman added later added that 150 or less was grossly inaccurate, since CIC admitted in July 2010 that there were at least 750,000 cases of Lost Canadians, and 5 per cent of that number is closer to 40,000.

Is 95 per cent good enough?
Within the Conservative Party, Weston said, he is proposing a change to grant citizenship to those, like Scott, who are excluded based on outdated social norms of “legitimacy” — i.e., being born in wedlock, or having a Canadian father rather than a Canadian mother.

“It would affect a class of citizens – people born out of wedlock before 1947 – who are not allowed citizenship,” Weston said. “That’s a bias no one I know considers fair or just – I don’t know any Canadian who would say that’s fair.

For advocates like Chapman, individual appeals and internal government discussions are not enough to address what he views as an injustice towards people who, for all intents and purposes, live as Canadians and may not even realize they do not qualify for citizenship.

“Australia had the same wacky laws on their books as Canada – because all these laws were British,” Chapman said. “But everybody else corrected these.

“Canada is one last hold-out that doesn’t want to really correct it totally. They’re saying, ‘We did it for 95 per cent, and that’s good enough.’ Is that really a way a country should treat its people?”

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